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Published: Monday, 4/24/2006

It doesn't take long for Pistons to get it in gear

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Don't call it a mismatch, a precious waste of time.

Call it a test for the Detroit Pistons.

How ready are the Pistons for the NBA playoffs, even if it means facing the two-games-under-.500 Milwaukee Bucks in the first round?

By all indications, the Pistons have never been more ready.

Despite playing down to their opponent, they still won by 18 points last night.

As they buffed the Palace floor with Milwaukee 92-74 to snatch a 1-0 series lead, the Pistons served notice that the best team in the NBA is taking no prisoners.

Make no mistake, this wasn't a vintage Pistons performance.

In fact, the game's most impressive feat was the halftime act starring a female performer who fired a bow and arrow with her foot while standing on her head.

Thusly inspired, the Pistons built on a 43-37 lead at the break and led 64-45 at the five-minute mark of the third quarter.

Still, the Pistons have some kinks to work out.

While they passed their first test of the postseason, they were surprisingly careless with the basketball against an opponent that treats defense as an afterthought, and they missed entirely too many makable shots.

At times, the Pistons' lack of offensive production got the best of them as they tried to make plays that weren't there.

"I thought offensively we were very anxious," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "I told our guys that offensively we wanted to do it too quick. We wanted to win big right away."

At other times, like during the key fourth-quarter stretch when Detroit outscored Milwaukee 11-0 after the Bucks had pulled within 68-64, the Pistons played lights out.

"It seemed like when they wanted to turn up their defensive pressure, they did," Milwaukee coach Terry Stotts said.

As usual, Detroit's defense was special. No Milwaukee player scored more than 13 points. The Pistons held former Ohio State standout Michael Redd to 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Pistons shooting guard Richard Hamilton (21 points) not only outscored Redd, he shadowed him all over the court. The

Pistons also gave Hamilton plenty of help on defense.

"They did a great job having two or three guys around me all night. It was very difficult to get a shot off," Redd said.

Milwaukee's 35.6 field-goal percentage actually made the Pistons' 41.3 percent shooting look respectable.

Power forward Rasheed Wallace got off to a great start. He scored 17 first-half points and was on the way to a big scoring night until foul trouble kept him on the bench in the second half. Still, Wallace scored a game-high 22 points in 29 minutes.

Hamilton carried the Pistons' offense after halftime, scoring 15 of his 21 points. He tallied four points in the fourth-quarter run before leaving after reinjuring his left ankle. Saunders said his status is day-to-day.

"You have to go into every game thinking it's going to be a grind. You can't go in thinking it's going to be easy," Saunders said.

"In pressure situations, you go back to doing what you do best. Defense is the staple of our team."

A win is a win, so the Pistons made their first statement of the postseason by winning handily while leaving no doubt that their best basketball is ahead of them.



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